The best books on the French Revolution from a wide range of perspectives

Who am I?

In my research and teaching, I have long been fascinated with the effects of the French Revolution on France, Europe, and the broader world.  In my most recent book, Our Friends the Enemies, I sought to examine the aftermath of the wars provoked by the Revolution, which lasted (with only two short breaks) from 1792 to 1815.  In particular, I wanted to reconstruct the story—which had long been overlooked by historians—of the occupation of France by the Allies who defeated Napoleon.  Lasting from 1815 to 1818, this occupation was the first modern peacekeeping mission, with profound consequences for the history of France and Europe in the nineteenth century and beyond.


I wrote...

Book cover of Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France After Napoleon

What is my book about?

The Napoleonic Wars did not end with Waterloo. That famous battle was just the beginning of a long, complex transition to peace. After a massive invasion of France by more than a million soldiers from across Europe, the Allied powers insisted on a long-term occupation of the country to guarantee that the defeated nation rebuild itself and pay substantial reparations to its conquerors.

Our Friends the Enemies provides the first comprehensive history of the post-Napoleonic occupation of France and its innovative approach to peacemaking. From 1815 to 1818, a multinational force of 150,000 men under the command of the Duke of Wellington occupied northeastern France. From military, political, and cultural perspectives, my book reconstructs the experience of the occupiers and the occupied in Paris and across the French countryside.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ninety-Three

Christine Haynes Why did I love this book?

Set at the height of the French Revolution, in the midst of the Terror, this novel by the Romantic writer Victor Hugo depicts the contest between revolutionary “Blues” and counter-revolutionary “Whites” in Brittany.  Emphasizing the ideological conviction of both sides, the novel provides a vivid introduction to the civil war engendered by the Revolution of 1789, between radical Jacobins, on the one hand, and traditionalist nobles, priests, and peasants, especially in the Vendée region of western France, on the other. While it is perhaps a bit melodramatic for modern tastes, this lesser-known novel by one of France’s most celebrated authors nonetheless still deserves to be read for the way in which it encapsulates the complexities of human motivation and experience in the midst of a revolution.

By Victor Hugo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ninety-Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ninety-Three (1874) is the final novel of Victor Hugo. As a work of historical fiction, the story is set during the period of conflict between the newly formed French Republic and the Royalists who sought to reverse the gains of the revolution. Praised for its morality and honest depiction of the horrors of war, Ninety-Three influenced such wide-ranging political thinkers as Joseph Stalin and Ayn Rand. "The soldiers forced cautiously. Everything was in full bloom; they were surrounded by a quivering wall of branches, whose leaves diffused a delicious freshness. Here and there sunbeams pierced these green shades." Advancing through…


Book cover of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime

Christine Haynes Why did I love this book?

It is widely accepted that the French Revolution would not have occurred without the preceding Enlightenment. But what exactly was the Enlightenment? In this now classic study, Robert Darnton broadened the perspective on this question, to examine the writers, publishers, booksellers, peddlers, and smugglers responsible for the circulation of “enlightened” ideas.  Often operating illegally underground or even abroad in “Grub Street,” these producers and distributors of Enlightenment played a key role in subverting the Old Regime centered on monarchy, Church, and aristocracy, which would come crashing down in 1789.

By Robert Darnton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Literary Underground of the Old Regime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Darnton introduces us to the shadowy world of pirate publishers, garret scribblers, under-the-cloak book peddlers, smugglers, and police spies that composed the literary underground of the Enlightenment.

Here are the ambitious writers who crowded into Paris seeking fame and fortune within the Republic of Letters, but who instead sank into the miserable world of Grub Street-victims of a closed world of protection and privilege. Venting their frustrations in an illicit literature of vitriolic pamphlets, libelles, and chroniques scandaleuses, these "Rousseaus of the gutter" desecrated everything sacred in the social order of the Old Regime. Here too are the workers…


Book cover of A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

Christine Haynes Why did I love this book?

If you read only one book on the French Revolution, this new comprehensive synthesis should be the one. Based on a half-century of study of the subject, it evocatively reconstructs the main stakes and debates of this first modern “revolution,” in the sense of a break with the past, from its origins in the 1770s and 80s to its overthrow by Napoleon Bonaparte after 1799. Attentive to the experiences of ordinary people in the Revolution, including women and blacks, it is one of the few works (so far) to treat the related unrest in the Caribbean, especially Haiti, not as tangential but as integral to the revolution in France. Throughout, this new history reminds us of the seminal importance of the French Revolution for our own struggles over democracy today.

By Jeremy D. Popkin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A New World Begins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The principles of the French Revolution remain the only possible basis for a just society -- even if, after more than two hundred years, they are more contested than ever before. In A New World Begins, Jeremy D. Popkin offers a riveting account of the revolution that puts the reader in the thick of the debates and the violence that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a new society. We meet Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Danton, in all of their brilliance and vengefulness; we witness the failed escape and execution of Louis XVI; we see women…


Book cover of Muslims and Citizens: Islam, Politics, and the French Revolution

Christine Haynes Why did I love this book?

Similarly contributing to a broadening of perspective on the French Revolution, Ian Coller’s new book examines the way in which Muslims figured into the history of this world-historical event.  Making creative use of scattered and fragmentary sources on Muslims in eighteenth-century France and its empire, he shows how they were central to discussions of the “universalism” of the rights guaranteed by the revolutionary government. While this government was initially supported by much of the Muslim world, it ultimately undermined Muslim support—and the republic itself—by attempting to impose its vision of universal “liberty” in the invasion of Egypt in 1798, which brought the young general Napoleon Bonaparte to power.

By Ian Coller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Muslims and Citizens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking study of the role of Muslims in eighteenth-century France

"This elegant, braided history of Muslims and French citizenship is urgently needed. It will be a 'must read' for students of the French Revolution and anyone interested in modern France."- Carla Hesse, University of California, Berkeley

From the beginning, French revolutionaries imagined their transformation as a universal one that must include Muslims, Europe's most immediate neighbors. They believed in a world in which Muslims could and would be French citizens, but they disagreed violently about how to implement their visions of universalism and accommodate religious and social difference. Muslims,…


Book cover of Life in Revolutionary France

Christine Haynes Why did I love this book?

This new collection of essays by an international team of cutting-edge scholars allows readers to see how the French Revolution affected ordinary men and women, in Paris, the French provinces, and the French empire overseas.  Treating a broad range of topics—from female activism to property, justice, medicine, food, material culture, childhood, religion, and war—these essays collectively paint a vivid picture of everyday life during this tumultuous period.  Each essay is accompanied by a primary document from the time, which enables readers to see for themselves the kinds of sources on which historians rely in their work.  Inspired by innovative historiographical approaches to spaces, emotions, and artifacts, Life in Revolutionary France paves the way for new research into the everyday experience of revolution.

By Mette Herder (editor), Jennifer Heuer (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life in Revolutionary France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The French Revolution brought momentous political, social, and cultural change. Life in Revolutionary France asks how these changes affected everyday lives, in urban and rural areas, and on an international scale.

An international cast of distinguished academics and emerging scholars present new research on how people experienced and survived the revolutionary decade, with a particular focus on individual and collective agency as discovered through the archival record, material culture, and the history of emotions. It combines innovative work with student-friendly essays to offer fresh perspectives on topics such as:

* Political identities and activism
* Gender, race, and sexuality
*…


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Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

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9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, the French Revolution, and Islam and politics.

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